CEBU, Philippines – With pressure mounting to speed up the distribution of aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington and its strike group arrived Thursday in the Philippines, and officials said relief flights could take place around the clock at two airports.
Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander of the George Washington Strike Group, said the carrier and cruisers Antietam and Cowpens would take up positions off the east coast of Samar island “to begin to assess the damage and to provide logistical and emergency support, including medical care and water supplies,” according to a Pentagon news release.
The Navy cargo ship Charles Drew transported more than 1,900 gallons of water and food to an airfield in the hard-hit city of Tacloban, on Leyte island, which bore the brunt of the monster storm that ripped through the central Philippines late last week, and will move food and water to Guiuan airfield in Samar province, the Pentagon said.
More than 20 U.S. helicopters will ferry supplies ashore and take badly injured people to the George Washington for medical care. Pilots flew some of the planes from the carrier to a U.S. naval air station in Japan to create more room on the flight deck for helicopter operations.
“These helicopters represent a good deal of lift to move emergency supplies around,” Montgomery said.
At a military air base in the city of Cebu, which serves as the hub for relief efforts, officials said night flights had begun in Tacloban and were also possible at the Guiuan airfield, a logistics center on Samar. Flights had been limited to daytime because of insufficient lighting and personnel to operate at night.
Cebu’s airport was a hive of activity Thursday, as cargo planes took off carrying supplies and personnel from countries such as Israel, Indonesia and Taiwan and returned with some of the desperate people who line up every day in Tacloban to try to get a flight out of the disaster zone.
“The operations tempo is increasing,” said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, who heads the Philippine armed forces central command. “We have airlifted and delivered more than 1.8 million pounds of relief goods, food, water and medicine.”
The official death toll from the typhoon, known by Filipinos as Yolanda, stood at 2,357, but humanitarian workers said the figure could grow. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the storm had killed 4,460 people.